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(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah State Aggies quarterback Chuckie Keeton (16) passes the ball as the University of Utah hosts Utah State, college football Thursday, August 29, 2013 at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City.
Kragthorpe: Bowl trip for Utah, 10 wins for BYU, USU
College football » Utes have more playmakers; Cougs schedule lightens; Aggies keep soldifying
First Published Apr 21 2014 08:40 am • Last Updated Apr 21 2014 11:36 pm

In a weight room that functioned as a postgame interview area, Utah football players Trevor Reilly, Jake Murphy and Adam Schulz stood individually and repeated a common theme after a November defeat at Washington State that clinched the Utes’ losing record.

They said they were sorry for letting down Utah’s fans and alumni (Reilly), the team’s seniors (Murphy) and "everyone" (Schulz). That’s an enduring image from Utah’s 5-7 season, with a five-game losing streak that was bookended by wins over Stanford and Colorado.

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No apologies will be necessary next November, according to my script. The 2014 season already happened — in 1993 at Utah, 2007 at BYU and 1972 at Utah State. Now that spring practice is over, here’s how history will be repeated:

Utah

Ute quarterback Mike McCoy produced a 7-5 regular-season record as a junior in ‘93, prior to a Freedom Bowl loss to USC. That’s a good goal for Travis Wilson or Kendal Thompson, whoever ends up quarterbacking the Utes.

Utah is an intriguing program. The Utes have a bunch of playmakers now, but nobody’s sure how it all will come together. In unusual circumstances, they’re counting on big contributions from receiver Kaelin Clay and safety Tevin Carter, junior college transfers who have only one year of Division I eligibility.

Nobody ever worries abut Utah’s defense, but the availability of linebackers Jacoby Hale and Gionni Paul, who were injured during the spring, is a big variable. So is the QB competition, assuming Wilson is medically cleared to play and Thompson proves capable after transferring from Oklahoma.

After two losing seasons, Ute coach Kyle Whittingham is approaching a checkpoint. Rarely will a coach in a power conference go into a recruiting season with only two years left on his contract, as Whittingham will have after 2014. The common belief is he needs a 6-6 record and bowl eligibility to be retained.

It’s tricky, though. What if the Utes defeat Idaho State, Fresno State and Michigan, but go 3-6 in Pac-12 play? Is that sufficient? Probably not. But they can beat Washington State, Oregon State, Arizona and Colorado and finish 7-5 - or 6-6, if they lose at Michigan.


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BYU

Athletic director Tom Holmoe has remarkably pieced together BYU’s independent schedules, but this is a gap year. There’s no comparison to the challenges of last season or next season, so the standards are much higher in 2014.

The Cougars have to win 10 regular-season games to be judged successful, as they did in 2007 — quarterback Max Hall’s sophomore year, when they lost at UCLA and Tulsa. This season should play out similarly, with losses at Texas and Central Florida.

Texas will be ready for Taysom Hill’s running this time and UCF has good athletes, even without quarterback Blake Bortles.

Utah State

Historical comparisons are tougher to find in Logan, because it’s been so long since the Aggies were consistently good. USU’s last high-level run ended in 1972, quarterback Tony Adams’ senior year, when the Aggies finished 8-3 with losses at Oklahoma, Texas and Memphis (although USU claims a forfeit win over Oklahoma).

The Aggies need quarterback Chuckie Keeton and running back Joe Hill to look like themselves again, coming off knee injuries. There’s too much uncertainty to suggest the Aggies will win more than 10 of their 13 regular-season games — which is an amazing statement, considering the former status of the program.

USU should lose at Tennessee, BYU and Boise State, while going 7-1 in the Mountain West. The Aggies would need Boise State to lose twice in conference play to give them a division title, as happened last season.

kkragthorpe@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribkurt



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